This past April saw signs that Russian-NATO relations, frozen in the wake of the Russian-Georgian August 2008 conflict, might start looking up. A diplomatic meeting in the Russia-NATO format even took place in Brussels. But parallel to this event the Russian news media unleashed an unprecedented campaign protesting the NATO Cooperative Bow 09/Cooperative Lance 09 exercise that the Alliance is to hold in Georgia.
Moscow is carefully sidestepping the fact that the exercise is nothing but a staff game, with no combat forces attending. The Kremlin is deliberately ignoring the routine nature of the maneuvers to be joined by NATO countries and a few Russia’s CIS and CSTO partners (such as Armenia). Moscow deems it presently advantageous to continue demonizing NATO and playing up the anti-NATO card both to advance the policy toward weakening the Alliance’s role in Europe and also in domestic policy interests to justify its military actions and programs with the populace.
Moscow’s response to the upcoming exercise has been harsh. The Kremlin has canceled the meeting of the Russian and NATO Chiefs of the General Staff – largely a token gesture. Whereas the crossing of Russian border-guards into South Ossetia and Abkhazia to defend their borders with Georgia is a serious demonstration of Moscow’s readiness to resolutely respond to the signs of a NATO-Georgia rapprochement and prevent Georgia joining NATO by every means possible.
The Atlantic Alliance’s reaction followed swiftly. Two diplomats with the Russian permanent mission to the NATO in Brussels have been named persona non grata and expelled. There is every reason to expect Moscow’s retaliation, which would undoubtedly entail a further worsening of Russia’s relations with NATO. But it looks like the Kremlin does not care about their improvement. Clearly, a feud with NATO is reaping more political dividends than a friendship with it.